Diplomatic Relations With Angry Rabbits
“Sorry to disturb you, Mr. Mayor, but the rabbits are back.” At least Siobhan was kind enough to look sincerely apologetic about it.
Evan Mikumba smiled slightly. “Thank you,” he said. “You may send them in.” She nodded and left.
Easy for her to feel sorry for me, he thought. She doesn’t have to find a way for us to live together. He shuffled random papers on his table, trying to put the thought out of his head. Until the rabbit problem, his biggest concern was getting the half of his town that voted for the son of Indonesian immigrants to get along with the half that thought there was no place for a guy like him in Texas. Hell, they’d be happier if got “sent back”, even though he was born in Austin and graduated from good ol’ UT. (Go Longhorns!) Instead he had to worry about whether giant rabbits could read his mind.
He didn’t have any proof they could, but the animals had an uncanny ability to discern the mood of humans around them, and things were already antagonistic between the two groups. Evan didn’t want his city to end up like that village, Oswald, that collapsed a few miles away. The rabbits had made contact with them first.
Evan focused on his mental list: Easter bunnies, Beatrix Potter bunnies, Pat the Bunny… Soft. Soothing. Definitely not a threat. He took a deep breath, and forced himself to relax.
They padded in softly, the rabbit envoy and her brood-staff, on all fours. They moved with a jerky, jumping motion that Evan carefully avoided thinking of as a ‘hop’. It was only when he stood up that the rabbits, taking their places in the room, sat back on their heels.
Evan walked around the desk, putting his hand out. “Envoy,” he said as a greeting. She put out her paw, and he shook it, once. Her huge white muzzle came to just below his chin, but the tops of her stiff ears were over his head. She watched him with enormous orange eyes.
Velveteen Bunny, Guess How Much I Love You?
“What I can do for you?” he asked.
“We agree to dig our warrens deeper,”she replied, her voice so high-pitched it hurt his ears. “No more of your buildings will collapse.”
“Wonderful! Our engineers can help-”
“Not needed,” the Envoy said, cutting him off. “We know the earth.”
“Of course,” he said. “You’re right. Thank you.”
The Envoy’s furry face was impossible to decipher. Her whiskers twitched.
“Your food offering is not acceptable,” she said. “We need more, to make peace.” One ear flicked, and from behind her, a slightly smaller, brown-haired rabbit stepped forward.
“We need food for fifty mouths more,” it said. Evan couldn’t guess at its gender. “We visit the amount again in one year.” He wondered at its color. Is this what ‘nut brown’ means? Out loud, he said, “I can get the council to agree to that, if you will fill in the tunnels by the end of the month. We have houses and businesses, whole blocks closed off. My people need to go home.”
“Yes. There is more.” The Envoy looked at him, unblinking, for a long moment. “We also needed the Elgin.”
Evan was startled. He took a step back. “What?”
“The Elgin man. We took him, to make peace.”
“I told you that Doctor Clark is an old man. We agreed that we weren’t going to turn him over. How did you get to him?”
“We took the house. From below.”
Evan clapped his hand over his mouth to stop the words from coming out. Bunny thoughts, bunny thoughts, he told himself over and over, trying to stay calm. The largest rabbit, a monstrosity of muscle under black and white spotted fur who’d waited silently in the back of the room, stepped forward, teeth bared.
“The Elgin, for peace,” the Envoy repeated. “You were given time to provide him. Decide now if you want peace to continue.” Without waiting for an answer, she flicked her ears, signaling the other rabbits, who dropped to all fours and filed out of Evan’s office.
Evan waited. Siobhan came in a minute later, and shut the door behind her. “They’re gone,” she said quietly. “What did they want?”
“Nothing much,” he lied, but his heart pounded. “Get Sheriff Lee and that professor from the university on the phone. Have them meet me up the quarry in 30 minutes.”
“Why do you need them, sir?” Siobhan was obviously worried – her brows were furrowed and her pale blue eyes were tearing up. “My uncle was in Oswald. Are we gonna be safe here?”
“It’s fine, Siobhan. We just need to organize the food for the rabbits, and we’re looking at the quarry for storage.” He moved closer to her, putting one hand firmly on each of her shoulders. “This is all going to work out.” He grabbed his coat from the back of his chair, and left.
At the quarry, Evan stood by the edge, looking down in the brackish water far below. Behind him, he heard cars approaching on the gravel road. The cars stopped; doors opened and shut.
I liked Bunnicula, Evan thought. I really did.
“What’s this about, Mikumba?” Sheriff Lee called out. Evan turned around. Lee wasn’t a big man, but his thick Texas accent and oversized swagger made him seem larger. Next to him, Dr. Kessler seemed too tall, too lanky, too pale for a man who’d lived a decade under the southern sun.
Evan explained his meeting. Lee swore at regular intervals, a colorful mix of what he called “good ol’ boy phrases” that Evan had asked him, more than once, not to use in public. Kessler was silent until Evan finished.
“I can tell you there’s no way to safely exterminate these animals,” Kessler said. “Clark tried, for decades. Explosives, electricity, fire. He was never been able to get them all.”
“What about chemicals?” Evan asked. Kessler shrugged.
“Hormones caused this in the first place. After the Bennet brothers helped get rid of the first wave, they left town, but when we discovered there were more, Dr. Clark kept experimenting on them. He gave up his University post and took a private research grant, I heard. Made them smaller, almost human sized, but accidentally made them a lot smarter, too. They evolved vocal chords. It’s, it’s…” he moved his hands in the air wildly. “It’s impossible, and yet, here they are. Creating a government and making demands.”
“I’ve been tellin’ ya it ain’t no accident they burrowed under the city,” Lee said. “They had a plan all along.”
“I agree,” Kessler said. “The seismic team hasn’t been able to radar every inch of the warren, so it likely extends far beyond what we’re estimating, as well. I’ve gotten reports that some of those tunnels come up higher under strategically placed targets. If we don’t comply…”
“The city falls down,” Lee finished for him. Kessler shrugged again.
“What about the National Guard?” Evan asked. “I haven’t seen them since they rolled out last month.”
“They were recalled,” Lee told him. “President won’t send the Army against talking rabbits. He’s considering a ‘diplomatic solution’, he says. As if my 12 gauge ain’t diplomatic.”
“Didn’t some of your deputies already try that?” Kessler asked.
“Well, I told ’em not to, but yeah, a couple of the stupid ones went off on their own. Didn’t none come back.”
“If we can’t fight them, we need to appeal to them, get the doctor back,” Evan said. “We can’t allow them to just take a man for whatever kind of justice rabbits come up with.”
“Oh, I think Clark is gone already,” Kessler said. “Rabbits fight to the death, and eat the loser. It’s, uh, really quite violent.”
“Bunnies are supposed to be cute,” Lee said, shaking his head. “I had a pet bunny as a kid. Loved that thing.” He sighed.
Guess How Much I Love You? Evan thought.
“Give them what they want,” Kessler said. “Humans created this problem. The rabbits didn’t ask to be made into what they are, but they’re here now.”
“Sherrif?” Evan asked.
Lee swore again but nodded his head. “I hate it but he ain’t wrong.”
“Then I’ll find a way for us to live together,” Evan said. “What’s one more faction at the city council meetings?” He laughed at the thought, and for once it felt real, and a little of the weight drained from his shoulders. “It’s what you all elected me for, isn’t it? Bring everyone together.” The others nodded.
“Well, all right then. Spread the word: We’re going to make peace.”
Walking back to his car, he wondered if the Envoy would support his re-election campaign.
A lot of my writing focuses on the people you might not expect: The ones left behind, left out, on the sidelines, behind the curtain. Everyone is the main character of their own story, right? Under pressure, in the kind of moment that makes a great story, any one of us could be heroic. We’re not always, and even when we are, it isn’t always single-minded, selfless, or easy. I think that deserves to be explored too.
I originally wrote “Diplomatic Relations With Angry Rabbits” in 2016 for my friend Leeman Kessler, who suggested the first line. I wrote the rest, roughly 1200 words, half-thinking about one of my favorite “horror” movies, and half-thinking about how a small town deals with big problems. Since then, I’ve revised it with a clearer idea of what this story’s really about. I like this version better.